“If I consider myself a peace activist, then all my words and actions must be devoted to peace.
For me this is Jihad, and if I die doing this I will be considered a martyr.”
- Ibtisam Mahameed
Ten years ago Ibtisam Mahameed decided to run for public office. It was a perilous decision for the 41-year-old, modestly dressed, Arab Muslim woman, married with three children. Traditionally, women did not play any role in politics in her village or any other Israeli Arab village. Knowing her decision invited controversy did not dissuade her.
Ibtisam lives with her family in Faradis (think Paradise, but with an ‘f’), an Arab village of 11,000 inhabitants in northern Israel, near Haifa. An Arab-Israeli citizen with an Israeli passport, she considers herself a Palestinian and can trace her family’s history in the region back 300 years.
Her decision to run for public office in 2002 cannot be appreciated without knowing the back story. A year earlier Ibtisam had approached the local sheikh of her village, requesting that he deliver a lecture for the women of the community on the rights of Muslim women, according to the Kor’an. “We don’t know what Islam allows us. Our husbands don’t teach us, and we would like to learn,” she explained.
The sheikh agreed amicably. A few days later he found himself facing several hundred women from Faradis, all eager to learn what Prophet Mohammed had allowed and proscribed for them. To their astonishment, they learned that, according to the Kor’an, they had extensive rights: marriage rights, divorce rights, inheritance rights, even rights to run for public office. The sheikh cited historical examples of outstanding and illustrious Muslim women who had been leaders in education, business, and jurisprudence, stories they had never heard before...